Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Pagan Side Comes Out

Monday my latest column, Assembly of a Lesser God, appeared on the UU World web site. It's about the intentional construction of god-forms, which comes from my pagan/magickal background. That's a side I haven't shown in UU World before, and I'll be interested to see (1) if anybody notices, and (2) what kind of reactions it draws.

I intentionally did the column with a light touch, starting out by talking about Rita the goddess of urban parking. That will allow people to laugh the whole thing off if they need to. But there's a serious idea in there, sort of a post-humanist approach to worship.

The conclusion I've drawn over the years is that evolution, for whatever reason, has made us a believing, worshiping species. And whether we approve of that decision or not, we're stuck working with the mind we have. Belief and worship are powerful tools for organizing thought and behavior. If others get control of those tools, they can make us dance like puppets. But if we're careful, we can learn to pull our own strings.
It's not like I invented this idea. (It's pretty orthodox chaos magick, actually.) But it's not nearly as well-known in UU circles as I think it ought to be. And I suppose it's controversial that there could be a "post-humanist" approach to anything -- an approach that reclaims religion not by ignoring humanist thought, but by using it.

Anyway, I post this here as an attempt to get some more direct, immediate feedback than I can get through UU World. React away.


ms. kitty said...

Hi, Doug,
I read the article online right away and really liked it a lot, so much so that I copied it to use later as a resource. Thanks for putting it out there. I always read what you post, sometimes agree, and other times just relish your great touch with words. This time I agreed with a lot. I tend to be an observer of others' thoughts, rather than an arguer/dissenter, so I don't usually disagree out loud.

Joel Monka said...

I started a comment but, as usual, ran long, so I posted it on my blog instead.

Doug Muder said...

Joel's blog piece is pretty interesting. Take a look:

Don Berg said...

I want to add my appreciation for your bringing out this practical aspect of ritual. I recommend that you check out Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz's book The Power of Full Engagement for a fuller exploration of how rituals can be utilized to great effect. They approach high performance from a grounding in practical applications with world class athletes and wrote the book for a business audience.

What you are describing with such humor and finesse is a practical application of mapping out access to optimal states of mind, which is a central tenet of my definition of education. You pointed out very nicely the contrast between the states of mind that result from the different methods of managing your own attention. When you look for parking in the absence of a sincere worshipful ritual then the result can be cognitive chaos. On the other hand, when a proper ritual is used then the result can be more consistently cognitive order. The book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is another one that I found helpful in developing an understanding of the benefits of maintaining control of your own states of mind. Flow is based on psychological research into states of mind.


Don Berg



kim said...

I'm beginning to think the parking goddess has many names. Mine's Angelina, the Parking Angel.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to share a poem that I find captures the essence of the kind of prayer you want. I've taken to just saying "Here" to remind myself of the poem's message. When I remember to do it it works beautifully.

In any case, I wish you luck as you struggle with the task of being human.

Matt Schlesinger said...


I'm in my 9th year of teaching at Southern Illinois University, and went on sabbatical last fall.

Anyway, since I came back in the spring of this year, I've had this recurring feeling of...well, I still can't find the word for it, but "Assembly of a lesser god" evoked the same exact sense in me. Peace? Serenity? Space? Self-forgiveness...?

The metaphor of hide-and-seek, and in particular, "returning to base" without the risk of being tagged was just the example that I have been searching for. Maybe some of us are just perfectionists in recovery, and really need that "OH! Give yourself a break" reminder from time to time.

You ended on an open note...a search for the right mantra to help Olly materialize. For me, it is the chorus from Bob Marley's "No woman, no cry" taught to me by father: "Everything's gonna be alright." (You have to sing to yourself for the full effect!) I find that like shampoo, when I rinse myself (pardon THAT metaphor!) in Marley's words and repeat, I give myself the chance to return to base for free.

Thanks for your thoughts and words!


smellincoffee said...


In your essay on "Humanist Spirituality", you introduced me to Stoicism as practice, and when re-reading it today I saw that you wrote that you didn't know of any Stoic communities. I found one just last night -- I was just re-reading your essay a few minutes ago and saw that, so I figured I'd leave a comment here if you are interested in taking a look at it.

Doug Muder said...


I will definitely take a look at Thanks.

Doug Muder said...

Matt Schlesinger's mention of the Bob Marley song reminds me to pay attention to another channel to the unconscious: the songs I find myself singing without meaning to.

I used to think these songs were just random, but then one day I realized they weren't. I was working on my thesis in mathematics, and checking some ridiculously complicated calculation. It was taking forever, and then I realized I was singing Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." I went ahead and finished the check, but it was all right.

Since then I've paid more attention to the songs I sing to myself. Sometimes I find encouragement there, sometimes criticism. For example, once when I wasn't being compassionate enough, I found myself singing "Frostie the Snowman".

I hadn't thought to listen for an Olly invocation, though. It's a good idea.

Matt Schlesinger said...

Doug, that's very cool. I think the modern slang term for a song stuck in your head is "earworm", though the term includes both melody and lyrics (sometimes it's the melody alone that gets stuck!):

I wonder how much of a coincidence it is that you mentioned the Dylan song...I immediately noticed the words "all right" in the title/lyrics.

While I can't say I collect songs with the word/phrase "alright" or "all right" in them, I do have a few favorites that borrow the Marley chorus, e.g.:

Sweetbox - "Everything's gonna be alright"
(A hiphop song that actually samples Borodin's "Stranger in Paradise"!)

Naughty by Nature - "Ghetto bastard"
(Note this is the uncensored version.)

It's really interesting to think that instead of you singing the song or melody stuck in your head, that it's singing you... :)


Jules Evans said...

its actually